The Sun Sister by Lucinda Riley

This is the sixth book in Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters series inspired by the mythology of the star cluster known as the Pleiades or ‘the seven sisters’. Each novel tells the story of one of the adopted daughters of a mysterious billionaire known as Pa Salt who dies at the beginning of the series, leaving each sister some clues to help them trace their biological parents.

The girls all grew up together at Atlantis, Pa Salt’s estate by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, but they were born in different countries and came from a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds. They are each named after one of the stars in the cluster – Maia, Alycone (Ally), Asterope (Star), Celaeno (CeCe), Taygete (Tiggy) and Electra. There should have been a seventh sister, whose name would have been Merope, but for some reason which hasn’t yet been revealed, only six girls were actually brought home to Atlantis by Pa Salt.

In the previous books in the series, we have heard Maia’s story, Ally’s, Star’s, CeCe’s and Tiggy’s. This latest novel, The Sun Sister, tells the story of Electra, and I will admit that I was not particularly looking forward to this one. Whenever Electra briefly appeared in one of the other sisters’ books, she came across as a very unattractive personality and I wasn’t really relishing the thought of following her throughout an entire novel. On the other hand, I had initially felt the same about CeCe and ended up liking her once I had read The Pearl Sister, so I hoped the same would happen here.

At the beginning of The Sun Sister, which opens in 2008, shortly after Pa Salt’s death, Electra is living in New York City, where she has built a successful career for herself as a model. Yet despite her beauty, fame and wealth, we quickly discover that Electra is not a very happy young woman. For a while now, she has been relying on drugs and alcohol to get through the day and the loss of her adoptive father, whom she feels was disappointed in her, has left her struggling to cope. To make things worse, she is aware that all five of her older sisters have by now traced their own origins and come to terms with who they really are. Then, just as she is reaching her absolute lowest ebb, she is visited by Stella Jackson, the grandmother she didn’t know she had – and the story Stella tells her will literally help to save her life.

Stella’s story involves another of Electra’s ancestors – Cecily Huntley-Morgan, a young American woman who, in the 1930s, goes to stay with her godmother in Kenya after having her heart broken not once but twice. Living amongst the notorious Happy Valley set, by the shores of Lake Naivasha, Cecily falls in love with the landscape and the way of life. She ends up staying in Kenya for much longer than she had planned, until she meets a troubled Maasai girl and agrees to help her – a decision that will change the course of Cecily’s life once again.

The two storylines alternate with each other throughout the book, but each section is long enough that we can become fully immersed in one character’s story before moving on to the next. Of the two, Cecily’s was my favourite; in fact, it might even be my favourite of all the historical storylines in this series so far. I loved the descriptions of Kenya and the way some of the real incidents and people from the Happy Valley society were woven into the story. Although I didn’t agree with all of Cecily’s decisions (and I was disappointed in her treatment of a certain person in her life towards the end of the book), I did like her and sympathised with some of the situations she found herself in.

But I also enjoyed reading about Electra and despite my dislike of her at the beginning, I soon began to warm to her and to understand why she behaved the way she did. It was clear that Electra had always felt slightly out of place in her family, so it was good to see her bonding with her eldest sister, Maia, in this book. Now I hope she can resolve her differences with CeCe in the final book!

After not really looking forward to this book, it turned out to be one of the best in the series. Now I’m very curious about the seventh one, which is going to have to provide answers to all of the questions and mysteries raised in the previous six. I hope we don’t have to wait too long for it.

The Moon Sister by Lucinda Riley

This is the fifth book in Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters series based loosely on the mythology of the star cluster known as Pleiades or ‘the seven sisters’. Each novel tells the story of one of the adopted daughters of a mysterious millionaire known as Pa Salt.

The girls come from different cultures and backgrounds, but all grew up together on Pa Salt’s estate in Switzerland. They are each named after one of the stars in the cluster – Maia, Alycone (Ally), Asterope (Star), Celaeno (CeCe), Taygete (Tiggy) and Electra D’Aplièse. You may have noticed that there are only six sisters; for some reason, which we don’t yet know, a seventh was never adopted. This is one of many mysteries running throughout the series.

At the beginning of the first novel, The Seven Sisters, Pa Salt died, leaving each sister some clues to help them trace their biological parents. So far we have heard Maia’s story, Ally’s, Star’s and CeCe’s; now, in The Moon Sister, it’s the turn of Tiggy. All of the books in the series work as standalones and it’s not essential to read them in order, but this book does overlap with one or two of the others and advances some of the storylines begun earlier in the series.

The Moon Sister follows Tiggy as she begins a new job in the Scottish Highlands, where she has been employed by Charlie Kinnaird to establish a colony of wildcats on his estate. With her degree in zoology and her love of nature, Tiggy is perfect for the job and quickly settles in, getting to know the animals on the Kinnaird estate and forming a close friendship with Cal, the man whose cottage she shares. The peace is disturbed, however, when Charlie arrives with his troubled teenage daughter and his spiteful, vindictive wife.

Away from the problems in the Kinnaird household, Tiggy meets Chilly, an elderly gypsy who lives alone on the estate. It seems that fate must have brought them together, because Chilly is the one person who knows the truth of Tiggy’s origins and can point her in the direction of her birth family. From Chilly, Tiggy learns of her ancestor, Lucia Albaycin, a famous Spanish flamenco dancer. But Chilly doesn’t know everything, so to discover the rest of her family’s story, Tiggy must travel to Spain and visit the gypsy community in the caves of Sacromonte.

Like the others in the series, this book is divided between the modern day storyline and the historical one. We spend a decent amount of time with each character before switching to the other, which means we can become absorbed in both stories. Lucia’s story is fascinating – I can’t say that I liked her, as I found her very self-centred and driven by ambition at the expense of everything else – but she is certainly a strong character, whose power and passion as a person is matched by the power and passion of her dancing. It was interesting to watch as she (along with her equally selfish and irresponsible father) start from nothing to build a successful career in flamenco which takes them all over the world. Meanwhile, in Sacromonte near Granada, we follow the sad story of how the lives of the other gitanos (Spanish gypsies) are affected by first the Spanish Civil War and then the onset of the Second World War, leaving their community changed beyond recognition.

It was good to get to know Tiggy better too – and she is much easier to like than Lucia. The other d’Aplieses think of her as the sensitive, spiritual sister…the sort of person who wants to help everyone around her, whether human or animal, and who cares deeply about nature and the environment, trying hard to resist temptation and stick to her vegan diet! Of all her sisters, Tiggy is particularly close to Ally, whom we met in The Storm Sister, and it was lovely to see her again in this book. The one part of Tiggy’s story that didn’t really work for me was the romance. I felt that she and the man concerned hadn’t spent enough time together for their love for each other to develop, so I didn’t become as emotionally invested in their relationship as I would have liked.

The next book is going to tell Electra’s story and I have to admit I’m very apprehensive about that one. From the little we’ve seen and heard of Electra so far, her personality strikes me as very unappealing. However, we are given lots of intriguing clues in The Moon Sister regarding Pa Salt, his death and some strange occurrences at his home, Atlantis, so I’m hoping Electra will fill in some more of the gaps for us. I’m also curious about the rich businessman Zed, who keeps popping up throughout the series, trying to worm his way into the lives of first Maia, then Tiggy and now, it seems, Electra. For those reasons, I will be looking out for the next book, which I’m hoping will be published later this year.

The Pearl Sister by Lucinda Riley

The Pearl Sister is the fourth book in Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters series based loosely on the mythology of the Pleiades (or ‘seven sisters’) star cluster. There will eventually be seven novels each telling the story of one of the adopted daughters of a mysterious millionaire known as Pa Salt.

The girls, who are all from very different backgrounds and who grew up together in Switzerland on Pa Salt’s Lake Geneva estate, are named after the stars in the cluster – Maia, Alycone (Ally), Asterope (Star), Celaeno (CeCe), Taygete (Tiggy) and Electra D’Aplièse. There should have been a seventh sister, whose name would have been Merope, but for some reason which has not yet been revealed only six girls were adopted rather than seven. Pa Salt dies at the beginning of the series, leaving each sister some clues to help them trace their real parents, if they wish to do so.

The books could be read in any order as they all work as standalones, with only a small amount of overlap. The first book in the series, The Seven Sisters, tells Maia’s story, the second, The Storm Sister, tells Ally’s, and the third, The Shadow Sister, concentrates on Star. This time it’s CeCe’s turn. CeCe and Star are nearly the same age, being adopted as babies just a few months apart, and have always had a very close relationship. In the previous novel we saw the shy, quiet Star stepping out from CeCe’s shadow to build a life of her own, while The Pearl Sister begins with CeCe feeling rejected and left behind as Star moves on.

Pa Salt has left CeCe the name of an Australian pioneer and a black and white photograph to point her on her way, so she sets off for Australia, stopping in Thailand for a few weeks first. Following a trail which she hopes will lead to her own birth family, CeCe makes some discoveries which help her to understand who she really is.

CeCe’s story is set in the modern day, but we also follow the story of another woman and this one takes place in the early part of the twentieth century. It’s 1906 and Kitty McBride has left her home in Edinburgh to travel to Australia as a lady’s companion. Here she meets the Mercer family, who own both a pearl business and a cattle station, and becomes entangled with twin brothers Drummond and Andrew Mercer. When it becomes obvious that both of them are hoping to marry Kitty, she will have a big decision to make. Her choice will affect not only her own life but the lives of future generations as well.

Having read most of Lucinda Riley’s novels now, I think she deals with multiple time periods very well, spending long enough in each one for us to become fully immersed in the story before switching to the other. I enjoyed both of the storylines, but Kitty’s was more dramatic, filled with plot twists and surprises (as well as one or two coincidences which I thought stretched things a bit too far, although that wasn’t a big problem). I loved reading about Kitty’s involvement in the pearl industry and about her friendship with another strong and courageous woman, her maid Camira. CeCe’s storyline kept me turning the pages too. There’s a subplot involving a man she meets in Thailand which feels slightly disconnected from the rest of the story, but once she leaves Thailand and arrives in Australia things become more interesting.

Until I read this book, CeCe was one of my least favourites of the sisters; because of the way she behaved whenever we saw her together with Star, I thought she was a bossy and controlling person, but it seems I had misjudged her. In this novel, we see a very different side of CeCe and discover just how dependent she had been on Star. She has a lot of insecurities as a result of her dyslexia and her appearance – she is convinced that her sisters are all much prettier than she is – and after a bad experience at art college she has even lost confidence in her abilities as an artist. As she gets closer to discovering her roots, CeCe begins to grow as a person; she finds some independence, makes new friends and enters into new relationships. The CeCe we leave behind at the end of the book seems a much happier person than the one we met at the start!

Earlier this week I said that I wanted to incorporate more books set outside my own country into my reading this year. The Pearl Sister takes place in two: Thailand and Australia. I particularly enjoyed the Australian settings – Broome and then Alice Springs – and I was as interested as Kitty and CeCe in learning about the history and culture of the Aboriginal people.

Having had the chance to get to know four of the D’Aplièse sisters now, I’m looking forward to the next two books on Tiggy and Electra.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book for review.

The Shadow Sister by Lucinda Riley

the-shadow-sister-lucinda-rileyThis is the third book in Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters series based loosely on the mythology of the Pleiades (or ‘seven sisters’) star cluster. There will eventually be seven novels each telling the story of one of the adopted daughters of an enigmatic millionaire known as Pa Salt. The girls, who are all from very different backgrounds and who grew up together in Switzerland on Pa Salt’s Lake Geneva estate, are named after the stars in the cluster – Maia, Alycone (Ally), Asterope (Star), Celaeno (CeCe), Taygete (Tiggy) and Electra. There should have been a seventh sister, whose name would have been Merope, but for some reason which has not yet been revealed only six girls were adopted rather than seven.

The first book in the series, The Seven Sisters, tells Maia’s story, while the second, The Storm Sister, tells Ally’s. In The Shadow Sister, we get to know more about the third sister, Star. This novel works as a standalone, but it also follows a similar pattern to the first two, beginning just after the sisters learn of Pa Salt’s death and each receive a set of clues which he has left behind to help them discover the secrets of their origins. Star’s clues include a black panther figurine and the address of a bookshop in London. As fate would have it, she is about to move into a new London apartment with her sister CeCe, who is due to begin an art course at college. Star, who is a shy, quiet person, would prefer to live a simple life in the countryside, but she and CeCe have always done everything together – which usually means doing whatever CeCe wants.

In London, it’s not long before Star’s curiosity gets the better of her and she finds herself pushing open the door to Arthur Morston Books ready to take the first step towards uncovering the truth about her past. As Star begins to investigate, she learns of a possible connection with Flora MacNichol who grew up at Esthwaite Hall in England’s Lake District in the early 20th century and became a friend of the children’s author Beatrix Potter. With the help of Orlando Forbes, the eccentric owner of Arthur Morston Books, and his brother, the intriguingly named Mouse, Star attempts to piece Flora’s story together and in the process finds the courage to step out of CeCe’s shadow and take control of her own destiny.

I have enjoyed all three books in this series so far, but I think this one is my favourite. How could I not love a book that’s set (at least partly) in a bookshop? The characters Star meets on her journey of discovery are wonderful too – they are all so well drawn, from the melodramatic Orlando and the troubled Mouse to their artist cousin Marguerite and her little boy, Rory, who loves Superman and making chocolate brownies. I couldn’t work out, at first, exactly how Star could be linked to these people, but I wanted, desperately, for her to find a place within this family – and the relationships do all become clear eventually, with a few surprises along the way!

Flora’s story is a fascinating one too, filled with love, betrayal and deception and encompassing some of the most prominent figures in Edwardian society, including King Edward VII himself, and his mistress, Alice Keppel. I was as engrossed in Flora’s storyline as I was in Star’s; usually when a novel is set in more than one time period I find that I prefer one over the other, but with this book I enjoyed reading about both periods equally.

I was sorry that we saw nothing of Maia, Tiggy or Electra in The Shadow Sister, but it was nice to see a few appearances from Ally, the heroine of the previous novel, and to briefly pick up some of the threads from her story again. The title of book four will be The Pearl Sister and it will focus on CeCe. I was intrigued by CeCe’s character in this book – while I initially found her bossy and controlling, I can see now that there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye and I’m looking forward to getting to know her.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a copy of this book for review.

The Storm Sister by Lucinda Riley

The Storm Sister The Storm Sister is the second book in Lucinda Riley’s ambitious new series, The Seven Sisters. Based on the mythology surrounding the Pleiades (or ‘seven sisters’) star cluster, each novel in the series will tell the story of one of the adopted daughters of a reclusive millionaire known only as Pa Salt. Maia, Alycone (Ally), Asterope (Star), Celaeno (CeCe), Taygete (Tiggy) and Electra D’Aplièse have all been named after one of the stars in the constellation and have grown up together at Pa Salt’s estate, Atlantis, near Lake Geneva, Switzerland. The first book, which I read last year, is Maia’s story; The Storm Sister is Ally’s.

The beginning of this novel is very similar to the first: the sisters have been informed of Pa Salt’s death and have all hurried home to Atlantis, where they find that their adoptive father has left each of them a set of clues which will enable them to discover the truth about their own origins. At first, Ally’s clues mean nothing to her: a small brown frog and a pair of coordinates directing her to a museum in Norway. She is intrigued but has no time to investigate because, as a professional sailor, she is preparing to take part in one of the biggest yacht races of her career. When tragedy strikes, however, Ally decides to travel to Norway where she attempts to unravel the secrets of her past.

Following the trail left by Pa Salt, Ally learns of a talented young singer, Anna Landvik, who sang at the premiere of Peer Gynt more than a hundred years earlier. It seems that Anna’s story – and that of Jens Halvorsen, one of the musicians in the orchestra – could be linked to Ally’s own, but Ally is not quite sure what the connection could be. With the help of Thom Halvorsen, who tells her he is the great-great-grandson of Jens, Ally is able to fill in the gaps and in the process makes some surprising discoveries that will change the course of her own life.

I enjoyed The Storm Sister but I think I preferred the first book in the series (I suppose in a seven-book series it’s understandable that I’m going to like some more than others). The Storm Sister is a very long novel and I think I would have been happier if less time had been spent at the beginning of the book on Ally’s sailing and her romance with her fellow sailor, Theo. It seemed to take such a long time for the historical storyline to begin! I did become much more engrossed in Ally’s story in later sections of the book, though; I loved the way things came together towards the end and the links between several different generations of Halvorsens grew stronger.

The Anna and Jens storyline was fascinating and made me want to pause in my reading and listen to parts of Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt to help me imagine Anna singing Solveig’s Song and Jens playing the opening bars of Morning Mood on his flute. There is a musical theme running throughout the entire book and I was reminded of one of Lucinda Riley’s other novels, The Italian Girl, in that respect.

As part of a larger series, I had hoped that this book might shed more light on some of the central mysteries. Who was Pa Salt? What were the true circumstances surrounding his death and burial at sea? And what happened to the seventh sister, who should have been called Merope? However, we don’t learn much more about any of these things in this book; based on the two that I’ve read, it seems that each novel will stand alone and can be read in any order – presumably until we reach the seventh book when our questions should finally be answered!

Book three will focus on Star, or Asterope, and I’m already looking forward to it. Star is not one of the strongest characters among the sisters, but I like her and I think her story will be an interesting one.

Thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of The Storm Sister.

The Seven Sisters by Lucinda Riley

The Seven Sisters This is the first in a planned series of seven novels based around the legends of the Seven Sisters star constellation. Each novel follows the story of one of six sisters, all born to different parents and adopted as babies by a man the girls call ‘Pa Salt’. Pa Salt has named his adopted daughters after the stars in the constellation: Maia, Alycone (Ally), Asterope (Star), Celaeno (CeCe), Taygete (Tiggy) and Electra. There is no seventh sister, which has made me very curious about the seventh book in the series!

This first novel introduces us to Maia d’Apliese, the eldest of the six girls. Growing up on Pa Salt’s estate, Atlantis, by Lake Geneva in Switzerland, Maia and her sisters have been loved and cared for by their adoptive father and his housekeeper, Marina, but know almost nothing about their own origins. When Pa Salt dies suddenly, the sisters – all now adults with lives and careers of their own – gather at Atlantis to remember the man who had been a father to them all. To their surprise, they discover that Pa Salt has left each of them an envelope containing clues to their heritage and pointing them in the direction of their place of birth.

Maia is surprised to find that her own life began in Rio de Janeiro, and with no reason to remain in Switzerland, she sets off to Brazil to research her roots. With the help of the Brazilian novelist, Floriano Quintelas, Maia begins to uncover the story of a young woman called Izabela who lived in Rio during the 1920s and played a part in the creation of the statue of Christ the Redeemer. As she learns more about Izabela, Maia begins to gain the confidence to move on with her own life and seize her own chance of happiness before it’s too late.

The Seven Sisters is a big book with over 600 pages in the hardback edition I read, but I never felt that it was too long. I was drawn into both main characters’ stories, so I didn’t really notice the length of the book. The experiences of Maia and Izabela are very different in some ways – Maia, in 2007, has freedom and opportunites that Izabela could only dream of – but there are also some similarities between their two stories. Both women are hiding secrets, both have made mistakes and both have lost someone close to them. Of the two characters, I preferred Maia, but both storylines interested me.

I also liked the setting – or settings, as there is more than one! Some of the 1920s chapters are set in Paris where Izabela spends some time among the Bohemian artists and writers in Montparnasse, but my favourites were the sections set in Rio. I know very little about Brazil and its history, so I enjoyed going back in time and learning about the construction of Christ the Redeemer, as well as the modern day chapters in which Maia sees some of the city’s famous sights.

I really love the concept of this series; it’s ambitious and something different. After I finished the book I took the time to explore Lucinda Riley’s Seven Sisters website, where she explains some of the mythology behind the Seven Sisters, or Pleiades, constellation. I discovered that she had also woven some anagrams and mythological allusions into the story too, which I hadn’t noticed while I was reading the book but will look out for in future novels now that I’m aware of it! I’m already looking forward to the second in the series, which will be Ally’s story. Ally’s personality seems to be very different from Maia’s and I can’t wait to get to know her better.